Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Art of the Nudge

Yesterday, I got a note from an author, whose first book being published this year, along with her next novel. 

"Hi E! Know it may be a while before you can get to this, but I think it's in good shape for reading.  Enjoy!"

How nice and laid back is she?

Anyway, this got me thinking about how much of this business is not just about reading, but getting other people to read. People want me to read their queries, clients need me to read their next works and I want and need editors to read my submissions, other authors to read the bound mss and offer endorsements, and reviewers and to read galleys and write about them…and so on and so forth. There is never enough time in the day for any of us to get to all the reading and certainly not in the timely manner that you want to.  But I do think there are ways all of us can help our cause.  Let’s call it nudging with style. Because there is an art to it and if you aren’t careful, you can seriously fuck it up. 

Case in point. A writer was in touch with me a few weeks ago asking me to read his novel. Back story, he had turned me down years ago, when I wanted to represent him and acknowledged that he always regretted it. I was excited to read it and kindly responded in turn that I probably would have gone with the other agent then too (I was about 25) and asked him to please send it along and I would take a look.  He told me he was only sending the novel to me and would be thrilled if we could work together. He sent me the over 100,000 word novel on a Thursday.  On Monday, he asked if I had read it.  Now, warning bells went off in my head about this guy, so I read the first three chapters then and there at my desk, and was happy to discover that the novel, despite it's many merits, was not the best fit for my list, and thusly passed on it.  

Thank god I did. A few days later he accidentally sent me an email that was meant for someone else, trashing me and making fun of my blog and thus proving my warning bell instincts right.  After realizing his mistake, he apologized and acknowledged that he had been too pushy with me but that he was getting pressure from another agent about it. Er, another agent? WELL IF HE HAD JUST SAID RIGHT OFF THE BAT that it was with me and another agent that wanted to rep it, but he really regretted that he hadn't chosen me and would I be willing to take a quick look, I would have started reading the novel the minute it landed in my inbox and maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have been so quick to want to not like it.

Likewise, when I send a novel out on submission, it's all I can do but sit by the phone, refresh my in box and, um, write blog posts because I am so totally myopically focused on hearing something (anything!) back from my editors (who mind you also have 10 other things to read at that moment).  And, when I do have interest—and I am talking about real solid interest, ala  “I love this! I am getting other in house reads!” “Don’t take a pre-empt without us talking!" I call all the editors and let them know they might want to read it sooner rather than later. What I don't do is call them and force them to read it just because I am freaking out all by myself.  Editors know that the "have you read?" or the fake "I have interest" means you have no interest and I don't want that sort of reputation. They are super busy and I am not going to make them work on my time frame just because or my own ego or angst.

Now back to my lovely client who sent in her novel with a very casual note.  I am not sure she was trying to throw a psychological fast one on me, but if she was, she is even more brilliant than I already thought, because, by acknowledging that I might not get to this right away, she was saying, “I know how busy you are!” and honestly, it made me want to drop everything else and start reading her book immediately.

So maybe the art of the nudge is just good old-fashioned manners and common sense. Be upfront about what you are doing—if you are submitting to agents and are unsure about protocol, just tell them it’s with others and if you want your over-worked representative to read your book, tell her not to. :)


  1. Good to know.

    If I ever get to that point.

    Which I hope I will.

    By the way, I know you're busy, and asking you to check out my blog might be completely crazy, but (but) if you have an extra 3 minutes, and are looking for a little laugh, maybe you can take a look-see.

    Thanks for all your awesome insight!

  2. That's fascinating. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. EESH wow... I can't imagine how I would have felt/reacted if I'd gotten an accidental email like the one you received. But to the point of your post, yes, I completely agree that good manners (and nice-ness in general) make me want to help/respond to people far more than being pushy! Honey > vinegar, right? :)

  4. Though I never would've sent the kind of ghastly email your disappointed writer sent, I can admit to being a bit over eager as a fledgling writer. Lots of new writers make the mistake of thinking they're the greatest thing since Tolstoy and they're sitting on a masterpiece.

    But once you've been through publishing's school of hard knocks, you realize time, patience and a healthy set of boundaries are the only way to be heard. Not only can it help one's career, but more importantly, calm makes the rocky road to publication less, er, rocky.

  5. There is no substitute for professionalism in this business--whether to someone's face or behind their back. If you'd never been accidentally sent that rude e-mail and thus didn't know about it, the writer would still be unprofessional. In this case karma bit him in the butt!

  6. The email rule of thumb, which is a hard one (and one I do not always follow) is never put something in writing that you don't want everyone else to see! Thanks everyone for commenting. The bottom line is that this is frustrating for everyone.

  7. Its just mind boggling that someone who is looking to be published would burn the bridge so quickly. I think it just shows his own lack of maturity and civility!

    PS - I think your blog is awesome! The insight you offer is truly a value to aspiring writers like myself. So thank you for taking the time out and blog! ^.^

  8. As Sierra says (she sent me over) it's all about professionalism. It'a business. People who still act as if they're the star of their high school creative writing club will always be more trouble than they are worth.

    I can't imagine how he could find fault with your blog. I've been saying harsh things about bad blogs over on mine this week, and this one passes all the tests--it's inviting, calm, and all about informative, friendly, easy-to-read content.